Bordeaux 2016: vintage update



Fresh from the vineyards, Buying Director and Bordeaux Buyer Max Lalondrelle reports on the 2016 vintage so far – a year that has proven difficult for Bordeaux but fortunately seems to be producing good quality and decent quantities.

Having just returned from my yearly pilgrimage to check on the harvest, I can safely say that the 2016 Bordeaux vintage is looking good! Not great but certainly good… After a very unpromising start, with a very wet and cold spring, resulting in problems with flowering and mildew, things were not looking great for 2016 and most properties feared the worst. However, August arrived and saved the day: a very hot summer quickly allowed the vines to “catch up” from a very delayed cycle and the vintage started to get back on track.

The usual timing from flowering to harvest is around 100 days but here we are, approaching the middle of October, and yet some properties haven’t even started harvesting. The main reason for the delay is a troubled and wet start to the season combined with one of the nicest Indian summers. There is an almost eerie calm in the vineyards, with the appearance of a dress rehearsal rather than a full-blown harvest, as the properties pick and choose the perfect moment to harvest. The nights are cold, preserving the fruit and bringing freshness, while the days are sunny without being hot.

The 2016 vintage is a game of two halves and will therefore have a degree of uniqueness about it. Driving through the vineyards one can see the effect of the August heat, with some grapes burned on one side and some yellowing and loss of vigour on the lower leaves, but this is generally affecting young vines or plants on sandy soils (see below). The vines affected are also generally confined to the second or third wines and will therefore have very little impact of the overall quality of the vintage. The mildew during flowering did reduce yields in the affected vineyards, but this will have no effect on the quality of the remaining grapes. A common problem across the region was also an unusually high level of grape worms – a very small parasite which attacks the fruit by making small holes in the skin. The juices then escape and rot sets in. There were some severe cases, but most of the top vineyards were hardly affected.

I walked through the vineyards with technical directors from the top of St Estèphe, through Pauillac, St Julien, Margaux, St Emilion, Pomerol and even as far as Castillon: overall the regions have performed equally well. The heat was slightly more pronounced on the Right Bank so alcohol levels may be higher, but otherwise the vintage is consistent across the board. One of the most exciting grapes this year seems to the Cabernet Franc which has performed extremely well.

Despite all these little blips and bumps, the 2016 vintage is plentiful and most properties will have produced much more wine than last year. This in turn should help the properties to maintain their prices across the board. The wines will be different to, but in most cases equally as good as, the 2015s and there should be more of it.